21st Century Skills: Digital Literacy Skills

21st century skills comprise skillsabilities, and learning dispositions that have been identified as being required for success in 21st century society and workplaces by educators, business leaders, academics, and governmental agencies. This is part of a growing international movement focusing on the skills required for students to master in preparation for success in a rapidly changing, digital society. Many of these skills are also associated with deeper learning, which is based on mastering skills such as analytic reasoning, complex problem solving, and teamwork. These skills differ from traditional academic skills in that they are not primarily content knowledge-based.

Digital literacy refers to an individual’s ability to communicate, search for information, and use applications on various digital platforms like social media, email servers and search engine. Some of these platforms include social media and Medium, and other devices, such as, smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs. While digital literacy initially focused on digital skills and stand-alone computers, its focus has shifted to network devices including the Internet and use of social media. Digital literacy does not replace traditional forms of literacy. Instead, it builds upon the foundation of traditional forms of literacy.

Digital Literacy Skills

  1. Coding is a universal language and one that is useful whether a technical career is pursued or not. For example, having a basic understanding of HTML, CSS, and the like creates a shared understanding and a sense of knowing what can and cannot be done with web pages.
  2. Collaboration in the online environment requires deliberate Students should be taught basic project management and group work essentials to navigate between multiple platforms. Utilizing tools such as Base Camp or Trello in addition to collaborative functionality through Google Docs allows a student to begin experimenting with effective online collaboration.
  3. Cloud Software is an essential part of document management. The cloud is used to store everything from photos to research projects to term papers and music. While students are likely used to saving their pictures, they may not have the necessary processes in place to save their academic work in a way that is discoverable and accessible.
  4. Word Processing Software is often used in conjunction with collaboration and cloud software. Google has a suite of products, but there are other options as well. Microsoft Online increasingly integrates with different storage and management solutions such as Drop Box. Each of these platforms works a little differently, and students should have the opportunity to engage with several of them.
  5. Screencasting makes it easy for the novice video creator to make simple yet effective videos. This is a useful skill for explaining a topic as well as articulating what you are thinking. Ideal tools for teaching students how to screencast include Screencast-o-Matic and Camtasia. Through screencasting, a student can learn more about making accessible content.
  6. Personal Archiving takes into consideration that we leave a massive digital footprint. Without a plan in place to archive this information, it can quickly turn into a web of unfindable and not useful information. Students should be taught concepts such as metadata, tagging, keywords, and categories succinctly and directly to help them start thinking about how they are represented online.
  7. Information Evaluation has always been necessary. However, with the ease at which all people can create content and build knowledge, this skill becomes essential. Staying abreast of developments in information literacy and software engineering will paint a holistic picture of online information trends.
  8. Social Media Savvy is important because social media serves different purposes depending on the user, the technology, and the identified need. Students need to be given instruction and an opportunity to practice using various social media. For example, students should realize that Twitter is particularly useful for staying current on the latest news in the field while Flipgrid is great at building a sense of community.

Despite the commonly held conception that students are digital natives, research has repeatedly shown that this is not the case. Focusing on the 8 skills described above will guide your students to increased digital fluency where they can act ethically, responsibly, and productively.

Habits to Cultivate in Your Students

Preach “originality” in the rough.

The same–or highly similar–information can now be found on countless websites, forums, blogs, and the like. The true test is to find a diamond in the rough: an original fact or thought that contributes something unique to the discussion. This is what students should be trained to look for.

Hold open discussions about plagiarism.

Every teacher should hold a discussion of what plagiarism means in the Digital Age. What was once considered “copying” can now be regarded as repurposing in many cases. Refer to Kenneth Goldsmith’s Uncreative Writing for inspiration on this topic.

Help students develop a “nose” for quality.

Ideally, someone with digital literacy should be able to rate the relevance and quality of a source almost instantaneously. Obvious markers include phrasing of titles, reputation of source, standard of web design, publication date, and keywords.

Train students to react skeptically.

Especially when they read the phrase, “Research says…” or “A recent study revealed…” People are obsessed with data, and quick to believe dramatic figures when they see them. Be sure that whoever claims to back your facts is a credible source, and that the facts themselves are not skewed to manipulate your perspective.

Get used to multiple literacies, not just one.

The Digital Age has brought us not a single new type of literacy but several literacies that overlap and define one another. New literacies include Layered Literacy, which describes the way that print and digital overlap, creating intertextuality; Transliteracy, or the ability to read and write across a wide variety of media formats; Electracy, which refers to the pedagogical skills necessary for new digital skills; and digital citizenship, which covers the role and rights of a person within the digital world.

Read past the first page of Google results.

SEO controls a lot of what shows up on the first page. Most of us have the patience only to scan what shows up on the first page. Teach your students to delve deeper, search in different channels such as Scholar and News, and keep it going until information no longer seems relevant to the topic.

Be sure they evaluate two, if not three, competing sources before drawing a conclusion.

The best research approaches a topic from as many angles as possible. If you’re crafting an argument, search for facts that may prove your theory wrong. If you’re looking for supporting evidence, be sure it comes from a diverse selection of sources.

Teach your students to understand scientific discourse.

Unfortunately, most research papers are not written for the layman. But understand them the layman must. Your students need to be able to interpret scientific language in order to benefit from scientific research, as it will not always be summarized for them.

Use digital resources for empowerment.

Having a voice and a presence online can be more empowering than we think. As students form online identities and personas, help them visualize the scale of the impact they could make on various communities and the confidence they will gain from doing so.

Role of 4 C’s in Digital Literacy Skills

One way educators can approach the challenge of teaching students to engage safely and responsibly with technology is to focus on the role of the 4C’s:

  • Critical Thinking– It’s easy to read an article or see a photo and take it for face value, but as social media and the recent spotlight on “fake news” has shown us, there is a danger to doing so. Students need to know how to evaluate sources and make decisions about how to use the new information. This is crucial in an age where there is an overwhelming amount of information to sort through.
  • Creativity– Anyone can create digital content, but what determines quality? And how can you add authentic opportunities for students? Teachers can help students tap into their strengths and areas of interest while emphasizing original content and developing a quality product. To make it relevant and authentic, encourage students to publish their work using a variety of intuitive digital tools and elicit feedback in the process.
  • Communication– Teachers cannot shield their students from having an internet presence, but they can help students understand how to cultivate a positive and safe digital footprint. Communication not only happens face to face or over the phone; it also happens when deciding what to share and whom to share with online. In an era when schools are rapidly adopting a digital learning environment, communicating responsibly online is an essential 21st Century skill. Moreover, communicating with a broader audience, such as another classroom across the world, can be a tremendous motivator for students and help them find their voice.
  • Collaboration– Connecting with others from diverse backgrounds increases the ability to understand multiple perspectives. Learning from and with others all over the world is possible with digital tools like Twitter, Skype, Buncee, and Padlet to name a few. Students can work beyond their classroom walls to find answers to real problems. By engaging in this type of collaboration, students are even more prepared to participate successfully in our global economy.


Infusing the 4C’s into all applications of technology in the classroom allows teachers to validate what students are already interested in and provides relevant and personalized opportunities for them to grow and learn. It’s an excellent opportunity for teachers to learn with and from students. Ask them what their favorite digital tools are, why they like to use them, and most importantly how they can be used safely, responsibly and effectively.


Related Videos:

Digital Literacy: Why it Matters?

Digital literacy: Implications for Teaching and Learning

Importance of Digital Literacy

21st Century Skills: 4C’s



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